Guilford County Manager Mike Halford really knows how to pack a room, and he did so on Thursday, June 1, when the commissioners’ meeting room in the old Guilford County Court House was full of people who came to convince the Board of Commissioners to allocate more money to Guilford County Schools.
Halford proposed his budget for fiscal 2023-2024 in mid-May, which called for an increase of $0 dollars for the school system’s operating budget rather than the $101 million in new dollars that the Guilford County Board of Education requested from the county.
At the June 1 meeting, so many people showed up that security officers were diverting the overflow to the balcony. That hasn’t happened in years.
While many people showed their support with signs, about 30 speakers took advantage of their allotted two minutes of time to speak to the board about the budget. Though the June 1 public hearing was officially on anything and everything in Halford’s budget proposal, it was actually a hearing on school funding, since almost every speaker spoke on that.
Some years it has been teachers, administrators and parents who have spoken on the schools’ behalf, but the hearing this year was dominated by the schools’ “classified” employees, who made a compelling case as to why they need raises.
Many speakers said they love their jobs but added that, with inflation and other economic challenges today, it was virtually impossible to pay the bills.
One maintenance worker said that her pay was “poverty level,” while another classified employee said, “Everything has went up except our paychecks.”
The speakers struck the right tone with the board. There was no anger, just an explanation of the circumstances. Many speakers said that they were aware that the board had to fund many activities of county government, not just the schools. Others said that, if the commissioners find the money, the public will support them based on conversations they’ve had with others in the community. The implication was that it would be OK to raise taxes if that’s what it takes to fund raises for the employees.
One woman said she loved her job but she felt “devalued” due to a lack of adequate pay.
Some said that they appreciated the board funding the pay of classified employees to a level of a minimum of $15 an hour several years ago, but they added that that was not a livable wage in today’s economic environment.
In a first for the board, two employees spoke in Spanish and relied on interpreters to translate.